Caste, American Style

This is no time to mince words. Our country is in decline. To reverse that decline, and this is a tall order, we have to overcome at least four national emergencies we are experiencing all at once.

One is economic inequality that is ripping at the fabric of our society and turning one American against another. On top of that, there is health insecurity. There is more to the anxiety so many are feeling than COVID. Millions feared falling ill even before the coronavirus started ravaging our nation because they lacked health insurance enabling them to afford medical care. Millions more lost jobs when the pandemic hit causing them to lose the insurance that was tied to their employment.

Then there is social injustice, for years a brightly glowing ember that burst into flames this year, sparked by racial tensions that exploded into nationwide unrest and upheaval. Speaking of flames, much of America’s west coast has been burning, the direct result of a fourth national emergency—environmental insanity. We are staring down the barrel of a gun—a looming and undeniable climate crisis—that threatens life on this planet.

As if four national emergencies are not more than enough to deal with in the midst of a pandemic, we’ve all had to endure a contentious, bitterly divisive election full of disinformation and lies. Our election system and democratic institutions have so far held up under immense stress. It feels like our country has dodged a bullet. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The election’s aftermath has been unprecedentedly disturbing. There may be more bullets to dodge between now and January 20. Then the truly hard part begins.

The conditions that brought Donald Trump to power were decades in the making and will not disappear just because he vacates the office. The lethal combination of growing economic inequality and chronic social injustice has produced what is effectively a caste system in America. The country has its royalty, its courtier class, its commoners and its untouchables.

The failings of our health care system aggravate this condition, as they fall hardest on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable among us. Those same populations also suffer the most from environmental degradation. The air and water are much more likely to be poisoned where they live. Their homes are the first to be swept away by floodwaters resulting from climate change.

All four of our national emergencies are most brutal to those on the bottom rungs of America’s caste ladder. If these emergencies go unsolved, anger and desperation will grow.

Bold action is required to reverse the concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands, cure what ails our sick health care system, arrest climate catastrophe and come to terms with systemic racism…or our nation’s decline will continue and tensions will escalate. Problem is, America’s major political parties are not thinking or acting boldly. One has been doing everything in its power to prevent the country from striking at the root of these emergencies. The other’s alternative has been cautious incrementalism. One party is increasingly scary, the other perpetually scared.

That won’t do. It’s up to we the people to think big, demand more, insist on bold steps. We are all about to be tested like never before.

Mike McCabe

November 16, 2020